By Luke Garten
The Bishop High Sierra race was very close to being a race of the past. The original race director was retiring from taking the heavy work load so the race was open for someone new to take on the responsibilities. I tried to not get too excited about it until it was for sure going to happen a few months before the race started. I knew it would be a quality race when Tim Stahler, of Inside Trail Racing, accepted responsibility of the race. Every race that Inside Trail has put on has been top notch.
My adventure started on Friday before the race. After leaving Auburn I headed to Truckee to pick up my friend Peter Fain. We arrived in Bishop at our campsite near the start of the race at Brown’s Millpond Campground. We happened to get a campsite next to more friends, Peter Broomhall and his family, along with Paul Sweeney and Betsy Nye. Camping with friends around makes a weekend even better. We pitched our tents in the hot 94 degree day (a preview of what was to come tomorrow).
We then headed to Sage to Summit running store to get our bibs, then to the pre-race dinner. The pasta dinner was great and came with some cake and a raffle to win some cool prizes. I sat with my friend Kuni Yamagata and got the inside scoop on the course and what to expect since he has run this race before. After filling our stomachs with carbs and our brains with info we headed back to camp for some rest before the hot day on the course.
The alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. Saturday morning. I ate my usual oatmeal and had some coffee. Although this time it was uncooked and cold oatmeal, and the coffee was a cold can of coffee that Bob Shebest had given me at Lake Sonoma 50. I filled my water bottle with water and three gels mixed in (got the idea from Ray Sanchez). Threw on my running clothes and headed to the start to shiver, wishing I took a sweater with me. The crowd waited for the 6 a.m. start as I wondered what I have signed myself up for.
At 6 a.m. Tim Stahler sent us on our way to suffer the tough day ahead of us. Peter Fain set the pace from the beginning as I let the lead pack go ahead but not out of sight. We went right through the campgrounds then on to the very sandy trail. I mean very sandy. I sat back with a few runners and chatted while failing to find some harder dirt to run on. The sand got some what easier around mile 2, as I reeled in the front pack trying to find out who was running what distance (really trying to find out who Chris Price is as I knew he would be my competition for the day). There ended up being 4 of us in a tight pack for almost 2 hours, making this feel more like a fun long run as all of us were pacing very conservatively. Peter Fain and Jeff Kozak were in the 50 miler, myself and Chris Price were in the 100k. As we started to split up, but we were still within a few minutes of each other after 3 hours, making for a very enjoyable race experience.
Then the pain began to come back in my left foot. At mile 10 I had to unlace my left shoe half way down and keep it loosely tied as my foot was starting to hurt pretty badly. I have been dealing with some foot pain on the top of my left foot for a couple weeks now and was worried about it flaring up today. The morning hours were nice and cool with a slight cloud cover. I never felt very warm at all. I was on top of taking in about 300 calories an hour for the first 3 hours (mostly Clif gels and Clif Shot Bloks). It was once I got up to around 8,000 feet that I started having problems. At 9,000 feet I had to start adding in some fast power hiking to try to keep my heart rate down. I was starting to get dizzy and not feeling that great. At that point Jeff Kozak and Chris Price went racing down the hill with Peter Fain about 3 minutes behind them. I arrived at the aid station around mile 20 behind the leaders by 5 minutes. Although the race got to a high point of 9400 ft., it never seemed that we were that high as we were surrounded by 13,000 ft. mountains. The high Sierras are magnificent. After leaving the aid station I started running the downhill from there at about a 6 minute mile pace trying to catch up when I started cramping on my inner thigh. Crap! This was like Silver State 50 miler all over again. Lack of really, really long uphill grinds at altitude in my training must be the culprit of this early cramping at both of these races. This was going to make for another long day. My first goal of going under the old course record was leaving my mind, while coming in under 10 hours became my new goal to shoot for.
For the next hour I was mainly trying to calm my breathing down. For some reason at about half of my races I start getting exercise induced asthma around the 3 hour mark. I am sure the altitude was not helping anything. I switched from 300 calories of gels an hour to about one gel an hour with Tailwind electrolyte drink. At about mile 33 I finally started catching up to Peter Fain on one of the downhills. He would leave me on the climbs as I would power-hike more of them at this point, trying not to have my legs cramp up.
The altitude had gotten the best of me at the first half. Now that I was able to start to get my legs back and look forward to a long 10 mile downhill, the heat started cranking up. I was no longer able to eat anything and I switched to drinking only ice water so I could use half of it to cool myself off with. I carried only one bottle because the aid stations were so close together. At this point I wished I had two bottles. I came up on Peter Fain around mile 40. He was not running very strong on the downhills (later to find out he was trying not to vomit). He sounded fine as he said “You made it back, how you feeling”? I am not sure I even looked at him as I was also trying not to vomit. I think I muttered “legs feeling better but can’t eat anything anymore”.
At this point I was trying to make up lost ground from the higher altitude and hammer the downhills. I kept my pace between 6:30 and 7:30 min mile for most of the long 10 mile downhill. The toughest part of the race came at mile 49.5. It was the last aid station for the 50 miler and the turnoff for the out and back section for the 100k. If you were going to drop down to the 50 miler this is the decision spot. Since my foot had been manageable so far I decided to continue on with the 100k. I quickly topped off my bottle and headed up the loose sandy road to finish the 100k. As the heat was up to 91 degrees and it was completely exposed on this course, I drained my bottle in 2 miles with 1.5 miles of uphill slogging to go. When I finally got to the aid station I arrived as Chris Price was coming in from the other direction making me about 45 minutes behind him. We both hung around way too long as we drank a large amount of water and soaked ourselves to cool off. Off I went to the turnaround point to gather a poker chip out of a bag in the middle of nowhere. Back to the same aid station and this time, I took a can of ice cold coke with me (the only calories I was taking in for the last 20 miles) and drank it as I walked up the last little hill left for the day.
At this point (mile 57) I was doing the math in my head trying to figure out if I could come in under 10 hours. If I could keep my pace under an 8 min mile I can do that. It was mostly downhill to the finish so off I kept my pace between 6:30 and 7:30. At mile 62 I realized the course was slightly long and I still had over a half a mile left with 5 minutes left. I kept my pace between 6:20 and 6:40 for the last effort and snuck in the finish line at 9:58!
My first 100k was over. The sandy course had destroyed my feet from running with sand in my shoes for so long (I took off my shoes 4 times to empty them). I did not come in under the old course record but I am very pleased coming in under 10 hours. Chris had broken the course record in 9:11! After a double cheeseburger and a half dozen beers I had forgotten about the suffering and just enjoyed hanging out and cheering on friends.
The next day Peter and I took a stop at Mono Lake on the way home to check out the Tufas.
Then we drove over to Sonora Pass to do a 7 mile recovery run/scramble up the half snow covered Sonora Peak at 11,500 ft. An incredible way to end a perfect weekend.
Thanks to all the great volunteers out there who had to suffer in the heat with us. They were pretty amazing to put up with us whining runners. They were there just to support their community. Thanks to Tim Stahler for keeping this race alive. I hope to be back next year, along with another epic recovery run!